The world’s most technologically sophisticated genocide is happening in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, Rayhan Asat and Yonah Diamond write in a recent article for Foreign Policy. According to Asat and Diamond, “The Uighurs [pronounced ‘Wee-grz’] have been suffering under the most advanced police state, with extensive controls and restrictions on every aspect of life—religious, familial, cultural, and social.”
An estimated 1 million Uighurs—almost 10 percent of the Uighur population in China—have been captured and interned in concentration camps. “From reports that have managed to get out of Xinjiang, people are arrested and sent to the camps for things as simple as men having long beards or women covering their heads,” Greg Turner wrote in recent article for TGC. “People have completely disappeared after being sent to these camps. There are credible accusations that Uighurs are being subjected to forced sterilization to reduce their numbers in China. This is one of the worst human-rights crises in recent years.”
The world’s most technologically sophisticated genocide is happening in the Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Last year Chinese authorities were caught collecting DNA from Uighurs being detained in the internment camps. Human-rights groups say a comprehensive DNA database could be used to chase down any Uighurs who resist conforming to the government’s campaign of “re-education.” The government is also using a secret system of advanced facial-recognition technology to track and control the Uighurs, according to The New York Times. The Chinese government has connected the facial-recognition technology to the country’s network of 176 million surveillance cameras to search for Uighurs based on their appearance.
Sam Brownback, the U.S. ambassador for international religious freedom, says the Uighurs are living in a virtual police state that China has created. “It is a horrific situation,” Brownback says, “and our big concern here is that this is the future of what oppression’s going to look like, and what it will look like for the Uyghurs even when they get out of the prison camps.”
I spoke with Ambassador Brownback to discuss the plight of the Uighurs and other religious minorities in China, the communist police state, and what Christians in America can do to promote religious freedom in that region.
What is the U.S. and the international community doing to help the Uighurs?
The United States is doing a great deal to raise the situational awareness of what’s happening to the Uighur population in Xinjiang. We are leading the world on this. We’ve held meetings at the UN General Assembly and at the UN center in Geneva. We’ve also sanctioned individuals—including the party chairman of Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, for what he’s done in implementing this data-driven, high-tech police state operation against the Uighurs.
It’s an effort by the Chinese government to remove Islam from the culture. We’ve strongly supported pushing back against what the Chinese government is doing in their war on faith, particularly as it regards the Uighurs.
We’ve also addressed the supply chain issues in regard to products coming out of the Xinjiang region into the United States. We’ve blocked entities seeking to export products from Xinjiang that are made with forced slave labor. And we’re going to continue to press this issue aggressively with Chinese officials.
I want to make sure that I’m clear on this: we support the Chinese people. I certainly support the Chinese people, for a daughter of mine is from China. It’s the Chinese Communist Party—atheistic and at war with faith—whom we have difficulty with, and we’re going to continue to press them on these human-rights and religious-freedom abuses.
Are there specific ways U.S. Christians can support the Uighurs and other oppressed minorities in China?
One way is to pray for them and against these evil structures oppressing them. For it’s not just Uighurs that are being oppressed. It’s also house-church Christians, Catholics, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, and other groups. I think Christians can help raise awareness of the plight of religious minorities in China within their internet circles, and by hosting speakers and webinars or Zoom meetings that include Uighur activists. A number of such activists have gotten out of the concentration camps and can testify to the atrocities. Christians can help to host them and let their stories be known.
I think it is also helpful to put a face on this crime. The party chairman, Chen Quanguo of Xinjiang, is the implementer of this police state. We need to show his face to the American public. People are familiar with Chinese President Xi Jinping. But here’s a guy that’s on the politburo—Chen Quanguo—that Xi is giving the money to and has authorized to implement this police state. I think people need to see his face. They need to know that he’s not only done it in Xinjiang; he also did it in Tibet. This is the way the Chinese Communist Party is seeking to control the population of China. The data-driven police state, which they call their Integrated Joint Operations Platform, is a digital surveillance system that uses artificial intelligence and facial-recognition software. It’s a scary prospect. Though called by a bland name, this is the kind of system we don’t want to see expanded around the world for totalitarian regimes to control people. But we’re very concerned it’s going to happen.
Are there any international religious-freedom treaties or forums that could be strengthened as a result of the Uighur situation?
There are a number of treaties that need to be strengthened. We’ve got an international religious-freedom alliance that has 29 nations in it. It just got started this year, but I think these are the sort of places where we can start to push these issues. We just have to get likeminded countries to join the cause.
The other thing we need is more religious-freedom roundtables. These are where activists for religious freedom from all faiths (or no faith at all)—who are interested in human rights and the dignity of religious freedom—can work together to push back. We’ve gotten 29 started around the world, but we want 100 of these religious-freedom roundtables in various countries. That’s a way people in those countries can organize to promote this fundamental right.
It’s not about a common theology, because people don’t agree on theology. It’s about a common human right: the dignity of a person to pick their own faith orientation. It would be really helpful to get more of these roundtables going.
Earlier this month, Chinese officials announced retaliatory sanctions against top U.S. officials, including you. What is your reaction to being sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party?
For me it’s a badge of honor. I am very concerned about the war on faith that the Communist Party in China is conducting, and we are going to push back aggressively. If they sanction me because I’ve been a person that’s fought for human rights and religious freedom for decades, then so be it. I’m glad to be in the company of people like Chris Smith, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz—men who have also been sanctioned for defending religious freedom. I’m happy to take that stand, even though the sanctions aren’t really affecting me. My daughter who is from China recently got married. I told her not to expect a wedding present from the Communist Party’s politburo.